The End of National Sovereignty?
by Professor Lord Robert Skidelsky

Kosovo and Blair's 'New Doctrine of the International Community'

Transcript of a Lecture given by Professor Lord Robert Skidelsky at the Royal Institute of Civil Engineers on June 14, 1999

Now that NATO's air war in Serbia has been successfully concluded, this is a good moment to step back from the headlines and attempt an interim reckoning.

In my experience, the fiercest disagreements on the war have concerned two questions: first, the scale of the humanitarian tragedy unfolding in Kosovo before the war started and which the war was designed to stop or prevent, and secondly, the effects of the war on international relations.

I will address both of these issues in my speech this evening. We have to remember, though, that this is an interim assessment. Many of the facts are not to hand. Some of them are still locked up in Serbia. And most of the history which this war will produce has not yet happened.

So we have to draw on our own historical experience and imagination to make sense of this tragic story.

My story starts with some general reflections suggested by history, before zooming in on the particulars of the tragedy itself.

One of the oldest divides in politics is between the Moralists and the Prudentialists. Moralists have a passion to make the crooked path of humanity straight; prudentialists to make the best of an inherently imperfect world. I know that prudence is itself a moral virtue, and moralists are also capable of discarding the sandals of the preacher for the clogs of the politician. But the basic divide goes back at least to biblical times. The New Testament calls the two sides the 'children of light' and the 'children of this world'.

In international relations the divide cuts especially deep, because conflicts of interest and values run much deeper and have a more lethal potential, so that peace is both more valuable and more fragile. This is why, over centuries of conflict, we have learnt to prize the prudential tradition of statesmanship.

Both Moralists and Prudentialists indulge in dreams of a single world. Moralists often think of this in terms of a new world order, united by a common set of principles or 'norms'. The Wilsonian doctrine of national self-determination as a universal solvent of the world's ills falls into this camp. Prudentialists more typically think of the world growing together through the spread of commerce, the movement of peoples, the gradual encroachment of ideas. The moralist perspective leads naturally to world government; Prudentialists think more naturally of a global extension of the Congress system developed to keep the European peace in the 19th century. Prudentialists are strongly suspicious of Utopian projects, and in this they have biblical support. As Jesus Christ said: 'The children of this world are wiser in their generation than the children of light.'

This division of outlook helps explain why it is possible to have two views of NATO's war in Yugoslavia. This goes far beyond arguments about military strategy, about who started 'ethnic cleansing', or comparisons of atrocities. It is about what policies make for a tolerable world. As you may have gathered, I am a prudentialist. This does not mean I have any partiality for Milosevic; nor that I would not have striven to improve a dreadful situation. It does mean that I believe that the Balkans, and the world as a whole, would be better off if this war had never taken place.

At this moment, the moralists are in the ascendant. NATO's resolve has been vindicated; Milosevic has capitulated. Would-be tyrants have been shown that crime does not pay. Even the military critics are on the defensive. Contrary to what they said, air power works!

But look again: Kosovo has been 'cleansed' of 850,000 extra Albanian Kosovars since the start of a war intended to prevent a humanitarian disaster. They will have to be returned to a devastated territory or resettled elsewhere. The bills for military occupation and reconstruction will be vast. All this is on the assumption that the Belgrade Agreement will go ahead as planned.

Then consider the effects of the war on international relations. I cannot put it better than Mark Almond: 'NATO's military action has radically changed the rules of the international game. In fact, they were torn up when Nato's cruise missiles and bombers went into action without UN Security Council approval.'1

The preliminary reactions of Russia and China, both symbolic and serious, are evidence of this. Russia has been slighted and alienated, the domestic position of its Westernisers greatly weakened.

China abstained in the crucial Security Council resolution authorising the entry of NATO peacekeepers into Kosovo and has said it will withdraw from further nuclear disarmament talks.

India has said it will press ahead with a new submarine-based missile system.

The Malaysian Prime Minister, Mahathir Mohammed, has suggested that non-Western nations may have to secede from the various declarations of human rights they have signed up to. There is talk of new strategic doctrines, of anti-NATO alliances.

No doubt much of this is hot air. At present no one is in a position to challenge the new Pax Americana. But there is much too much destructive weaponry lying around to make an imposed peace stable. Global rearmament, the break-up of the still-fragile global economy, a weakening of the claims of international law - these are not implausible repercussions of the bombing. If NATO's action turns out to have worsened international relations without achieving its peace aims in Kosovo, its 'victory' will be doubly Pyrrhic.

In my debate on Kosovo with Michael Ignatieff in the June issue of Prospect, I argued that the war would make the world a more dangerous place. I took my stand on the old principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of sovereign states, codified in the UN Charter, as against the 'new doctrine of the international community' proclaimed by the Prime Minister in his speech in Chicago on 22 April. So far, this 'doctrine' is the only attempt I know to justify, in terms of fundamental principle, what NATO is doing in Yugoslavia; I want to unpick it tonight.

At its heart is the assertion that globalisation has made the old doctrine of non-interference obsolete.

'Globalisation' says the Prime Minister 'is not just economic. It is also a political and security phenomenon. We live in a world where isolationism has ceased to have a reason to exist...We are all internationalists now. We cannot turn our backs on conflicts and the violation of human rights in other countries if we still want to be secure'.

The New Doctrine, Mr. Blair said, requires an 'important qualification' to the principle of 'non-interference in the internal affairs of other countries'. Implicitly recognising that the NATO action would not have gained Security Council authorization, Mr. Blair says 'we must find a new way to make the UN and its Security Council work'.

He also implicitly endorsed the notion of establishing protectorates in countries incapable of civilised self-government: 'we cannot simply walk away once the fight is over, better to stay with moderate number of troops than return for repeat performances'. To the historically minded, the New Doctrine bears an uncanny resemblance to the Old Doctrine of ethical imperialism, in whose name 'civilised' countries imposed their 'values' on 'barbarous' ones.

Mr. Blair insists that the New Doctrine is based on 'values' not on 'territorial ambitions'. But values and interests, he adds, cannot be separated. 'If we can establish and spread the values of liberty, the rule of law, human rights and an open society then that is in our national interests too. The spread of our values makes us safer'.

The New Doctrine apparently gives an unlimited right of sanctioning 'barbarous acts'. But military intervention must be qualified by a number of moral and prudential considerations. Mr. Blair lists five: 'Are we sure of our case?' 'Have we exhausted all diplomatic options?' 'Are there military operations we can sensibly and prudently undertake?' 'Are we prepared for the long term?' and 'Do we have national interests involved?' Presumably, his answer in the Yugoslav case is 'yes' to all five.

Before I take up these five points, let me say a few words about the principles which underly them.

My main disagreement with the New Doctrine is that it assumes a world which does not exist. It may be the world we would like to exist, and which will come to exist, given time. But right now the 'international community' is merely a project - a Western or American project. This gap between what we want to happen and what can be made to happen runs right through NATO's interventions in the wars of the Yugoslav succession - through its diplomatic initiatives, its military strategy, its peace aims, and its appreciation of outcomes. At all stages there has been a strong element of wish fulfilment.

The central problem lies in that ensnaring word 'globalization'. To Mr. Blair, as to most of us, it means deepening economic integration across countries. This is undoubtedly happening. But economic nationalism is not dead, and needs only modest political excuses to spring to life. As Mr. Blair himself acknowledges 'Recent trade disputes have been a bad omen.' Nevertheless, he assumes that globalisation is an irreversible fact, which requires a 'new doctrine of international community' based on the 'explicit recognition' of mutual dependence.

Mr. Blair's bold assertion, as I interpret it, is that globalization must be capped by a new ethical framework based on universal human rights.

Now it is certainly true that global markets require, and tend to produce, a uniform regulatory framework: the World Trade Organisation is a conspicuous example. Reduction of economic risk may also favour some types of political and fiscal constitution over others, though I am less persuaded of this. But in other areas, it is not only not true, but counter-productively untrue. If the price of globalization is a visitation from the United States air force, this is a price many states in the world will not pay.

We must always remember that states remain the main actors in international relations. Globalisation takes place with the permission of governments, because it offers their peoples the benefits of prosperity and peace. They are quite capable of putting it into reverse, if they come to doubt these benefits, or if they think globalization is simply a mask for Western imperialism. It happened once before, in 1914.

The continuing role of states reflects the fact that governments remain guardians of the particular interests and moral traditions of electorates to whom they are accountable, rightly so. Globalisation does not mean that something called the 'international community' has replaced national communities as objects of loyalty and sources of values. 'Globalisation' may be creating a weak sense of universal citizenship, especially among the elites. But it is also accompanied by a tendency for multi-national states to break up into their national/religious components. Peoples are becoming more globalist in their economic lives, more particularist in their cultural lives, the second probably in reaction to the first. How these two contrary pulls are negotiated will determine whether the 21st century is pacific or warlike.

It follows that the 'international community' cannot be the sole generator of ethical values. Western society is individualist; Asian society believes in the subordination of the individual to the group. The second is not destined to progress naturally to the first. Nor has the age-old conflict between universalist norms and what Eugene Kamenka called 'the mundane municipal order in which we live' been settled by globalization. In today's world it is liable to erupt precisely in the context of racial and religious strife such as we have seen in Yugoslavia, where individual rights have come into conflict with group rights, and group rights with state rights.

Mary Kaldor argues that the nature of war has changed. The old wars were about the defence of borders. The new wars are about identity politics, they spill across frontiers, they break down the distinction between soldiers and civilians, they are linked to poverty, trade in arms and drugs, and they are amplified enormously by global media.2 Much of this is true and important. But states and frontiers remain important. The Gulf War of 1991 was traditional in everything except its high technology[TJF1]. And if the new type of war order needs a new type of police force to control, let it be properly international and properly instituted.

This brings me to my next point. Insofar as an "international community" can be said to exist, it is clearly not synonymous with NATO. (Nor, for that matter, is NATO synonymous with the USA and Britain.) The attempt to convert a defensive alliance to protect Western Europe into an agent of ethical imperialism is fraught with danger. The New Doctrine unashamedly identifies the good of the world with Anglo-American 'values'. With this goes a 'new strategic concept, which apparently allows [NATO] to supplant the UN Security Council and embrace the whole planet in its zone of responsibility'.3 Again, it has to be stressed that there is no world government responsible for enforcing human rights, nor does NATO have any general mandate to act as world policeman. What we have in the UN Charter is a code of prudential rules designed to maximise the chances of peaceful co-existence - no more and no less.

Finally, is it really true, as Mr. Blair asserts that 'values and interests merge', that 'the spread of our values makes us safer'? Yes, Europe may be said to have an interest in stopping 'ethnic cleansing' on its doorstep. But why is this an interest of the United States? The fact that the United States was only weakly interested in Kosovo dictated and besmirched the whole character of the war. Generally speaking, it is obviously true that the spread of our values makes us safer - if they spread naturally through the influence of commerce, education, and voluntary imitation. But it is the reverse of the truth if we try to force them on others. It makes the world a more dangerous place, because it breeds resentments and hatreds, out of which new wars grow.

The idea that all that menaces the unity of mankind is a few rogue leaders who have to be swatted like flies is a dangerously childish perspective on post-Communist reality.

We come back to my central point. If we allow globalisation to spill over naturally into politics and ethics we have the makings of a peaceful and prosperous world. If we try to force our values on others we risk a different kind of spill-over - into reactive nationalism, political as well as economic, which damages both peace and prosperity.

This brings me to Mr. Blair's five tests for military intervention in Yugoslavia.

First, he asks, 'Are we sure of our case?' To start with, this is a legal question. The rule of law is at the heart of the Western political tradition, and the West has pioneered its extension into international relations. The UN Charter spells out international law as it has been accepted, understood, and usually acted on, since the Second World War. It is governed by the two principles of non-interference in the domestic affairs of sovereign states and Great Power consensus for military action.. The the [TJF2]Charter is the legal codification of all we have learnt about international relations since the Thirty Years War, which ended with the Peace of Westphalia in 1648.

International law is not static. With the 'end of ideology', three kinds of tension in the United Nations system have come to the surface: between territorial unity and national self-determination, between non-interference and human rights, and between the non-use of force and humanitarian action. All three have been at issue in Kosovo; in Marc Weller's words, Kosovo crystallises a struggle over the 'core values of the international system'.4 Struggle, not consensus, is the operative word.

So what is the status of the NATO action in international law?

Except for an inherent right of self defence, all military action under the UN Charter has to be authorised by the Security Council and is limited to protecting members from aggression and countering threats to, or breaches of, the peace, the Council having determined that these in fact exist. Interference, military or otherwise, in the domestic affairs of member states is excluded.5

Most members have also signed up to a number of declarations and covenants of human rights. Taken together these constitute "a common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations", to be realised by education and "progressive measures".6 No enforcement machinery is provided. The Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (1948) and the Torture Convention (1988) are justiciable, in the courts of the states in which the crime took place, or by agreement of the signatories, in international tribunals. An International Tribunal was set up in 1993 to prosecute individuals for crimes against 'international humanitarian law' committed in Yugoslavia after 1991. In the case of all human rights' violations (including genocide) indictments are brought against persons, not states. There is a legal basis for charging Milosevic and his partners with crimes against humanity; none for 'making war' on Yugoslavia, either to bring them to trial (which is not a NATO objective) or for bringing the crimes to an end.

The UN Security Council has never authorised NATO either to threaten or to use force to resolve the Kosovo issue. Thus it would seem that NATO's military's action is inconsistent with the UN Charter. The British government's legal defence of the NATO action is that as 'an exceptional measure to halt an overwhelming humanitarian catastrophe. Military intervention is legally justifiable under international law', when all other possibilities have been exhausted.7 The Security Council, notably on 24 October 1998, affirmed that the unresolved situation in Kosovo "constitutes a continuing threat to peace and security in the region" and expressing alarm and concern "at the continuing grave humanitarian situation throughout Kosovo and the impending humanitarian catastrophe, and re emphasising the need to prevent this from happening".8

The government's legal case rested, therefore, on the urgent need to halt ethnic cleansing, which the Security Council had decided, was a 'threat to the peace'. But in international law it was up to the Security Council to determine whether the circumstances of the case justified the use of force. It was never given the chance to do so. NATO therefore set itself up as the sole judge of the objective and factual circumstances justifying a military intervention. Strictly speaking, therefore the action was illegal,9 and this was implicitly recognised by Mr. Blair when he said in Chicago that international law would have to be changed.

Was there, then, a moral imperative to use force which overrode international law? Morality is central to NATO's justification of military action. To make the war just, it had to be able to say that military action was the only way to stop ethnic cleansing.

To determine the justice of the war, we have to try answer three questions. Was there in fact a looming 'humanitarian catastrophe'? Were there no other means to avert it? And would a 'sensible and prudent' use of force make the situation of the Kosovars and - I emphasise this - of international relations more secure than it was? The second and third questions are Mr. Blair's own tests for waging war.

On the first point, as I have said, the evidence is not all in. On our television screens we see images of suffering stripped of their history - stripped that is of the history of accusations, rumours, grievances, dramatic incidents, atrocities which have plagued Balkan history, and which started up again as the Cold War wound down, with much external meddling on the way. 'Legitimised genocide' was a term first used by the Serbs to describe what the Albanian Kosovars were doing to them. The ludicrous case of the man with the broken bottle in his bottom[TJF3], which sparked off widespread riots in the mid 1980s, shows the explosive effect which ignorance and rumour have when trust between communities is close to zero..

On the one side there is the Kosovan struggle for independence which became an armed struggle in 1997 with looting of the Albanian arsenals; on the other the perception of the Serbs of themselves as victims, Milosevic's dream of a Greater Serbia, the denial by the Serbs that they were in any way to blame for the breakup of Yugoslavia or the Kosovan tragedy or that any Serb could commit atrocities.

After the breakdown of government in Albania in 1997, the Kosovan Liberation Army acquired a large supply of arms. This enabled them to escalate the armed struggle for independence. Serb paramilitaries - rather like our Black and Tans in Ireland in 1920 [TJF4].

By the autumn of 1998, the UN estimated that 230,000 Albanian Kosovars had been displaced from their homes - driven into the mountains by shelling of their villages - out of an Albanian Kosovar population of 1.3 million.

This was undoubtedly a humanitarian tragedy. But suggested methods of dealing with it were highly coloured by the Western perception, for which I have yet to see convincing evidence - and I know that horrible stories like today"s will continue to emerge - that the genocide or mass expulsion of the Kosovan population had by now become the deliberate aim of the Serbian government. Our understanding of this tragedy has been shaped by the use of slippery words like 'genocide' and 'ethnic cleansing', comparisons between Milosevic and Hitler, Kosovo and Auschwitz. This perception demonised the Serbs, and dictated the nature of the diplomacy which followed.

This brings me to Mr. Blair's second question. Had we exhausted all diplomatic options? Here it is important to notice that diplomatic intervention was based on the assumption that the humanitarian disaster to be averted was the physical liquidation and/or the mass expulsion of Albanian Kosovars from Serbia, rather than the human suffering which was the byproduct of a particularly nasty civil war. Basically the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia was ordered by the United States as leader of NATO to end the repression of the civilian population of Kosovo on threat of air strikes. A shadowy plan for Kosovan self-government within the [TJF5]Yugoslavia also emerged from State Department briefs. So did the fundamental contradiction between continuing to assert Yugoslav sovereignty over Kosovo and at the same time asserting the Yugoslav government"s unfitness to govern it. Although a formal symmetry was maintained in demands on the KLA and FRY, responsibility for starting and ending the fighting in Kosovo was placed on the FRY, and the military threats directed against it. At this stage, Russia was not involved in the diplomatic effort.

On 30 January of this year, following the discovery by journalists of the bodies of 45 individuals evidently [TJF6]executed at close range by Serb forces, the North Atlantic Council threatened military intervention unless both sides attended a conference at Rambouillet. At the Rambouillet conference, which started on February 6, both delegations were presented with a single page of "non negotiable principles" for a political settlement based on a self governing Kosovo within the FRY, together with a supervised implementation procedure. During the negotiations concessions were made to Serb/FRY proposals aiming to give the minority ethnic groups - that is mainly the Serbs - blocking powers in the new Kosovan constitution. The Kosovan delegation, led by the KLA, finally accepted [TJF7]the revised proposals (on 18 March) on the understanding that three years after the interim settlement the future status of Kosovo would be decided by a referendum. This would achieve their long proclaimed goal of independence.. The Serb/FRY delegation refused to sign, but offered further negotiations..

Looking back over the diplomatic efforts, three things stand out. First, there was the contradiction between trying to keep Kosovo within the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and acting on the assumption that its population had to be protected against the Yugoslav government. This was eventually overcome when US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright assured the KLA that it would be allowed to take Kosovo out of Yugoslavia. But this meant the Serbs would refuse to sign the accord.

Second was the assumption that the Serbian government headed by Milosevic was a criminal organization. This led to implementation terms so harsh that the Serbian government were bound to refuse them. I draw your attention particularly to one of the implementation clauses. This reads:

NATO personnel shall enjoy, together with their vehicles, vessels, aircraft, and equipment, free and unrestricted passage and unimpeded access throughout the FRY including associated airspace and territorial waters. This shall include, but not be limited to, the right of bivouac, maneuver, billet and utilization of any areas or facilities as required for support, training, and operations.

The Berliner Zeitung noted that: 'This passage sounds like a surrender treaty following a war that was lost'. Another newspaper, Taz, commented 'If the talks had really had the aim of producing agreement, and not merely trying to convince skeptics of the unavoidability of NATO's attacks, then the text of the Accord is incomprehensible'.10

The third point is the virtual exclusion of Russia from the diplomatic effort. Apart from historic reasons, Russia is far closer to the combustible material of the Balkans than the United States or Britain - not least because it has large Islamic populations. Caught in the coils of its own financial and political crisis it was in no fit state to take part in the diplomacy of the autumn of 1998. At Rambouillet it contributed little either to the proposals for a political settlement or to the implementation provisions. Its role was more like that of a resentful bystander. It quelled Serb intransigence, but accepted the NATO position with mental reservations. This attitude seems to have continued up to the present. As Serbia's traditional protector, the Russians should have concentrated on making sure the Serbs were presented with a document they could sign up to in good faith. But they lacked the diplomatic skill, coherence, and confidence to achieve this outcome. And, it must be said, they were never regarded as more than the fifth wheel in the diplomatic coach. As a result of NATO's determination to punish the FRY and Russia's diplomatic incompetence, Milosevic was presented terms which no democratically accountable head of state could have accepted.

Mr. Blair asked. thirdly. 'Are there military operations we can sensibly and prudently undertake'? In the Yugoslav context, this question is about the kind of war which could have been expected to avert the 'impending humanitarian catastrophe'.

Let us be clear about results so far. The actual war we have fought has led to the mass exodus of Albanian Kosovars from Kosovo. The first refugees fled from Kosovo after the bombing started on 24 March; since then over 800,000 Kosovars have fled or been deported, and many Serbs have also fled. Kosovo has been almost emptied of its population. In addition, several thousand Serbs outside Kosovo have been killed accidentally, and much of the infrastructure of the country destroyed.

I draw your attention to what Robert Hayden, director of the Centre for Russian and European Studies at Pittsburgh University wrote a few weeks ago: 'The casualties among Serb civilians in the first three weeks are higher than all the casualties on both sides in Kosovo in the three months which led up to this war, and yet these three months were supposed to be a humanitarian catastrophe'.11

It may be that in the end most Kosovars will go back and a huge Marshall Aid programme will make the Balkans flow with milk and honey and everyone will live happily ever after. But at this moment in time the war has worsened the humanitarian situation. And even if its results improve it eventually, can we be reasonably confident that the improvement will be great enough to make up for the evils of the transition?

As is well known, NATO's military strategy was based on the refusal to accept casualties. This not only excluded the use of ground troops from the start; it also excluded low level air sorties targetted on Serb troop concentrations in Kosovo. This meant that the air campaign had to be aimed at what was called 'degrading' Serbia's infrastructure. Because the assembled ground troops were ordered not to fight for the people they had come to protect, a clear link was never established between the humanitarian and military objectives; and the morality of the war itself was impugned.

To wage a 'holy war' without willingness to accept sacrifices is a new phenomenon in human history. There may have been an element of wish-fulfilment here. Some of the political talk was of a Serb capitulation in a few days. But the wish was clearly father to the thought that no body bags on our side would be acceptable.

At a deeper level, wish-fulfilment seems to have been a necessary element in the whole operation. A number of commentators clearly saw that only the immediate deployment of ground troops could avert a 'humanitarian catastrophe'. Unlike me, most of these analysts were supporters of military intervention. For example, Mary Kaldor: 'Air strikes cannot prevent this kind of violence and may exacerbate it'.12 Or Timothy Garton Ash: "Rather than bombing Serbian towns, we should be liberating Kosovan villages".13 Both pointed out, additionally, that air strikes unite the afflicted country behind its rulers, crippling domestic opposition to disastrous policies.

What these critics fail to recognise is that there was never majority support, except perhaps in Britain, for an opposed invasion of Kosovo. This is not because the West is decadent - the British after all were willing to accept substantial casualties to defend the Falklands - but because no perceived national interests were involved. People are not yet prepared to die, or allow their soldiers to be killed, for the 'international community'. It wasn't politically possible for NATO to fight the kind of war needed to avert a humanitarian catastrophe. This suggests to me that by the time the bombing started anger with Milosevic, not concern for the safety of the Kosovars, was the dominating emotion in the American and British leadership.

In the last few weeks I have often been asked: 'But would you have just stood idly by and done nothing?' This assumes that there were no alternatives to what was actually done. But had the concept of 'damage limitation' rather than punishing Serbia been the lodestar of the diplomatic efforts, a whole range of alternatives would have disclosed itself - from economic sanctions or even bribes to making sure that an enlarged force of UN and OSCE monitors were kept on the ground. If there is one thing which history teaches us it is that monstrous acts can only be performed in dark places away from prying eyes. I don't believe that with a sufficient force of monitors on the ground in Kosovo either genocide or ethnic cleansing would have been possible, in the commonly accepted meaning of these terms. There was always a trade-off between prolonged but troubled peace under the watchful eye of the world and the evils of war under the protection of an informational blackout.

The PM's fourth and fifth questions can be taken together, and much more briefly. 'Are we prepared for the long term?', 'And do we have national interests involved?' Mr. Blair partially answered the second by saying: 'the mass expulsion of ethnic Albanians from Kosovo demanded notice from the rest of the world. But it does make a difference that it is taking place in a combustible part of Europe'. Had his Chicago speech been couched in regional, rather than doctrinal, terms, it would have been far more acceptable to prudentialists[TJF8], though even here I must point out that those NATO countries nearest to the "combustible parts" were the most reluctant to take military action. As to whether we are prepared for the long term, time will tell.

My conclusion, as I was taught at school, should follow from my premises. I announced myself to you as a prudentialist and have presented a prudentialist critique of the war. I do not deny that the international system needs to be revised to meet changing realities. But in trying to revise it unilaterally, in terms of universalist principles which are not universally shared, we - Clinton and Blair particularly - have taken immense risks with the future of international relations, without having secured the long-term future of the Kosovars themselves. These risks may turn out well, but we should not count on it.

I am left with an immense sense of pity, for the Kosovars whom we claimed to help, for the Serbians whom we aimed to punish. Above all, I am left with an abiding image of Olympian thunderbolts being rained from the skies by the 'children of light' - the avenging angels of Blair's 'new doctrine of the international community'.


Notes on the Author:

Professor Lord Robert Skidelsky


Research Fellow, Nuffield College, Oxford, 1965-68
Associate Professor, School of Advanced International Studies, John Hopkins University, 1970-76
Head of History, Philosophy and European Studies, Polytechnic of North London, 1976-78
Professor of International Studies, University of Warwick, 1978-90
Professor of Political Economy, University of Warwick, 1990-


Politicians and the Slump, 1967
Oswald Mosley, 1975
John Maynard Keynes, Vol. 1, 1983
John Maynard Keynes, Vol. 2, 1992
The World After Communism, 1995


Wolfson Prize for History, 1992


Royal Historical Society, 1973
Royal Society of Literature, 1978
British Academy, 1994


1 Mark Almond, "What have we started?", Independent on Sunday, 6 June 1999;
2 Mary Kaldor, Prospect, April 1999;
3 Dr Viktor Gobarev, "Feeling Threatened", World Today, June 1999
4 See the illuminating discussion in Marc Weller, "The Rambouillet Conference on Kosovo", International Affairs, Vol.75,No.2, April 1999, pp.213 8
5 Charter of the United Nations, Chapter I, Article I ( 1,4,7); Chapter 7 (Articles 39,42,51)
6 UN "Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Preamble.
7 Written answer, House of Commons, Hansard 26 April 1999, vol.330, col.35w. The legal issues are set out in a written question by Lord Kennet in the House of Lords and the reply by the Home Office Minister, Baroness Symons. Lord Kennet asked:

Whether the concept of 'overwhelming humanitarian necessity' (as now used by the Government in connection with the possible use of force by NATO in the context of Kosovo) is recognised in international law; and whether there is a consensus within the United Nations Security Council: (a) on the meaning and legal validity of the concept; (b)on the authority it may confer on states or groups of states proposing to use military force in the absence of a United Nations Security Council Resolution specifically requiring or permitting the use of force; and

Whether 'overwhelming humanitarian necessity' overrides other principles of international law; and, if so, how are the circumstances in which it may do so to be recognised by the international community; and by whom should they be recognised if military action is lawfully to follow; and

Whether unilateral declarations alleging 'overwhelming humanitarian necessity' may confer legality on threats or uses of force or inteference within sovereign states that would otherwise be unlawful; and

Whether the concept of 'overwhelming humanitarian necessity' and related legal doctrines have been considered by the International Court at the Hague.

In reply Baroness Symons stated:

There is no general doctrine of humanitarian necessity in international law. Cases have nevertheless arisen (as in Iraq in 1991) when, in the light of all the circumstances, a limited use of force was justifiable in support of purposes laid down by the Security Council but without the council's express authorisation when this was the only means to avert an immediate and overwhelming human catastrophe. Such cases would in the nature of things be exceptional and would depend on an objective assessment of the factual circumstances at the time and on the terms of relevant decisions of the Security Council bearing on that question. (HL Hansard,Was, 139-140, 16 November 1998)
8 Security Council Resolution 1203, 24 October 1998
9 William Rees Mogg reaches the same conclusion: see The Times, 31 May 1999
10 "Interim Agreement for Peace and Self Government in Kosovo", Rambouillet, France 23 February 1999, Appendix B. "Status of Multi National Military Implementation Force", clause 8. For newspaper comments, see Peter Schwartz, "Rambouillet Accord Foresaw the poccupation of the whole of Yugoslavia, 14 April 1999
11 Quoted Noam Chomsky, "Is this really a grand Nato victory?", 14 June 1999
12 Mary Kaldor, op.cit.
13 Timothy Garton Ash, 'Kosovo and Beyond', New York Review, 27 May 1999


[TJF1] 'tech' or 'technology'?
[TJF2] Duplicated 'the';
[TJF3] The case in question is presumably that in which a Serbian man alleged that Albanians assaulted him and forced a broken bottle into his anus; as I understand it, the Albanian trial judge accepted the defence that the victim was homosexual and had himself inserted the bottle for sexual gratification. It would be surprising if this case was sufficiently well-known not to warrant a footnote!
[TJF4] Missing text?
[TJF5] Missing word or superfluous 'the'?
[TJF6] There was much doubt over the circumstances of the deaths: the subject is too complex for me to deal with in appropriate length here but suffice it to say that it is by no means clear cut that there was an execution as alleged.
[TJF7] the composition of the KLA delegation had to be changed between the two formal sessions at Rambouillet before the KLA could be persuaded to sign!
[TJF8] Elsewhere 'Prudentialists'


Published August 8, 1999
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